Pirates-Cardinals Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ season ended in St. Louis a year ago.

That won’t happen Wednesday at Busch Stadium, but another defeat would severely hamper Pittsburgh’s hopes of winning the NL Central.

These division rivals meet for the final time in the regular season, with the Cardinals searching for a fifth straight win and three-game sweep that would push the third-place Pirates five games behind them.

Pittsburgh (71-67) began this series two games behind St. Louis and Milwaukee, who were tied for the Central lead. The Cardinals have taken the first two games and the Brewers have dropped two against the Chicago Cubs, giving St. Louis (75-63) a two-game advantage over Milwaukee as the Pirates dropped four back.

The Pirates, who lost a division series to the Cardinals last year, will now try to improve on a major league-worst 17-28 record in day games as they hand the ball to the surging Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.45 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his last seven starts.

Volquez continued his strong mound work Friday by giving up one run in 7 2-3 innings in a 2-1 win over Cincinnati, though he didn’t figure in the decision.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.96 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals this year, and 2-4 with a 5.50 ERA in seven in his career at Busch.

Volquez has struggled this year against Jhonny Peralta, who is 4 for 10 with two homers off him.

He’ll be opposed by Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.19), who went 0-4 with a 5.32 ERA in four starts against the Pirates as a rookie last year before going 2-2 with a 4.64 ERA in four this season.

Miller went 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA in five August starts but pitched well Friday, giving up two runs over seven innings as he didn’t get a decision in a 7-2 defeat to the Cubs.

The right-hander is 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA during the day compared to 4-7 with a 4.81 ERA at night.

Andrew McCutchen is 7 for 19 off Miller, Neil Walker is 6 for 17, Russell Martin is 5 for 13 and Starling Marte 4 for 12.

Those Pirates hitters combined for two hits in 16 at-bats in Tuesday’s 6-4 defeat, a solo homer by Martin and a two-run shot by Marte.

Pittsburgh is 1 for 13 in the series with runners in scoring position.

St. Louis has five RBIs in this series from the No. 9 spot in its batting order. Kolten Wong hit a tying, pinch-hit two-run homer in Monday’s 5-4 win and pitcher Adam Wainwright drove in three runs one night later.

”I feel like we’re really ready to take off,” said center fielder Peter Bourjos, who was 2 for 4 with two runs scored Tuesday. ”We’re getting contributions from everybody.”

Randal Grichuk added three hits and made a nice diving catch in right field to rob Marte of an extra-base hit. Grichuk had gone 5 for 36 in the No. 2 spot in his previous nine games.

The Pirates have dropped nine of their last 11 road games.

McCutchen is batting .194 this year at St. Louis after entering the season a .343 regular-season hitter there.